AI computers cannot patent their inventions -- but a US judge rules

The United States has decided that “individuals” must be considered natural persons.

Is an artificially the intelligent machine allowed to patent its inventions? The larger implications of this question were not relevant to a US federal judge. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), in April 2020, ruled that only “natural persons” could be considered the inventor of a patent. A US court ruled Thursday that this was true (via Bloomberg).

This is not the case in every country. South Africa and Australia decided to go the other direction, granting one patent and reinstating a second patent application filed by AI researcher Steven Thaler, whose AI system DABUS reportedly came up with a flashing light and a new type of food container. Thaler is the one who sued the US in this case as well — he’s part of a group called The Artificial Inventor Project that’s lobbying for AI recognition around the globe.

The entire US decision against Thaler can be read at the bottom of the post. But it’s easy to summarize:

  • According to the US Patent Act, inventors must be “individuals.”
  • Earlier legal decisions clarified that “individuals” must be individuals (not companies).
  • Also, it is quite clear from the context that the Patent Act was about people
  • Artificial intelligence systems are not like people

Oh, and the court can only overrule US agencies’ decisions if they are arbitrary, capricious, or illegal. But in this case, USPTO already explained its reasoning for why it will continue to maintain the status quo as of April 2017. Before it issued its 2019 ruling, it also requested public comment.


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